As a long time film producer and post production man, Billy Blake knows how to hustle the necessary bucks and tie up the necessary ends to bring a film project together.
But when the veteran of the film business has his own creative urges, he lets his still photography close the deal.
Although he grew up in the motion picture world (his father George Blake was a Hollywood producer/director) and spent most of his professional career thus far in film, still photography has proven to be a habit he just can’t kick.
Photoholic, an exhibit of Blake photographs from the early 1970s until the present, opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Saturday, September 18th, at the Universal Art Gallery, 2001 Lincoln Blvd., Venice.
The exhibit remains on display through Sunday, November 14th.
Imagewise, Blake’s photographs contrast colorful, playful, fantasyland imagery with the often overlooked dregs of everyday urban life. A shot of a dour, gravelly puddle of rain or a partially disrobed homeless woman, making a public spectacle of herself, conflict with angled shots of carousel unicorns or colorful Venice Beach mural backdrops.
Eye trickery is Blake’s style of photography. Blake chooses kitschy, catchy subject matter, sometimes playful and childlike, sometimes ominous and mysterious, and shoots as to make the subject a visual puzzle.
With Blake’s work, the viewer gets the small picture, so that they might imagine their own big picture.
Blake takes a decidedly anti-realist stance in his work.
“Art is about how each individual views it, how they feel about it, not about stark architectural reality,” says Blake.
That’s why the photoholic Blake employs intoxicating eye trickery in his work, making the viewer stop to think of how the shot and the optical effect might have been done. He makes sure the method of how the shot was taken takes the viewer at least a moment or two to identify.
Blake works with distortions, but not digital distortions, only the ones he can make optically through reflections or abstruse camera angles. He shoots the unnoticed in everyday scenes. He also likes to find situations where objects in the photo seem out of place. One shot in Venice shows a bike hanging by its handle bars from what appears to be a telephone wire. A vivid mural in the background and a jogging passer-by adds ambience.
The types of curios Blake likes to shoot can be found anywhere, but he is attracted to shooting certain areas.
“Venice is magnificent for color and for its vibrant murals,” Blake says. “I would also like to shoot in Ireland.”
Blake has a fascination for candyland color, but before he came to California in 1995, his photographic world was strictly black and white.
A visual divide is seen in Photoholic as all of the shots taken in New York and on the east coast from 1974 to 1995 are in black and white, while the more recent shots capture colors of the Southern California climate from 1995 to the present.
One might suspect that Blake’s photographic works are influenced heavily by his work in the film industry, but Blake says he rarely if ever mixes the two realms.
“They’re separate worlds. One is a mental challenge (film production) and one is a visual challenge (photography),” says Blake.
Even though some of the films Blake has produced have relied on the intensity of their visuals, like the cold, blue 1987 horror film Pumpkinhead, he says the visuals in the films he works on seldom influence his photography. The photography is purely his own vision — no teamwork involved, he says.
His artistic photography is a break from the film world. He is either in film mode or photographic mode, he says, and spends spans of time doing only one or the other, not both.
Blake says 1979 to 1981 was one heady period for his photography, a period of time he solely dedicated to photo rather than film.
Although Blake’s work is often centered on illusion, he won’t succumb to the modern method of snipping up his shots in Photoshop to set up the illusion, he says. All shots are composed optically, though he sees no problem with using overall effects from Photoshop.
Some great collage work has been done with Photoshop, admits Blake, but as a photographer who started long before the digital revolution, Blake sees changing the overall subject matter digitally as “cheating,” at least for the kind of photography he does.
Aside from film and photography, Blake was also the founding publisher of Millimeter magazine, a magazine on film production.
Blake’s last film that he produced was Wisegirls (2002), starring Mariah Carey and Mira Sorvino.
Blake will soon be working on a horror film scheduled for a Halloween 2005 release — that is, if someone can coax him out of photography mode first.
Information, (310) 302-8909.